Commonwealth’s Attorney Art Goff says he has reached agreements with two defendants in two highly publicized cases that emerged last summer during predecessor Peter Luke’s 28-year term. Guilty pleas are expected next week in the James Carlton Benkelman child pornography and sexual assault cases as well as the Grand View Road arson case.
Goff said yesterday that the 48-year-old Benkelman of Amissville will plead guilty in Rappahannock County Circuit Court on Monday (Feb. 13) to several felony charges related to the ongoing investigation into child pornography and molestation cases. The first charges emerged after a July 1 search, by Rappahannock County Sheriff’s Office and Northern Virginia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force investigators, of Benkelman’s home in Rappahannock Lakes. The search allegedly turned up pornographic images of children on a CD and other disks at Benkelman’s basement desk.
The investigation led to a total of 73 felony child pornography and molestation charges against Benkleman, after several parents came forward to accuse the former arborist.
The original 32 cases against Benkelman were divided into three different trial dates set for March, May and June, including one for the pornography charges and two others for felony charges of molesting two young boys. With Benkelman’s guilty pleas, those trials obviously won’t happen.
Goff said that Benkelman will likely plead guilty to several – if not all – of the charges Feb. 13, in exchange for an agreed-upon disposition recommended bench. He added that, while he’s fairly positive Benkelman will agree to the deal, the agreement has not yet been signed. Benkelman has been held at the Rappahannock County Jail since his arrest.
Goff this week also told the Circuit Court that the commonwealth has also reached an agreement with one the four 18-year-old suspects in the Grand View Road arson case. A formal guilty plea won’t be made until Feb. 16, he said. Each of the defendants face seven felony charges related to breaking and entering the unoccupied Grand View Road weekend home of William Rowland on Aug. 20, and then burning it to the ground, causing an estimated $300,000 in damage. In exchange for testimony against Benjamin Thomas Hale of Castleton and Julious Ceasar Lucas of Woodville, he said, Cameron Lee MacArthur II will receive lesser sentences to charges that could otherwise lead to a prison life sentence.
MacArthur’s intention to testify against the other three was first noted in court on Jan. 9; suspect Erick Xavier Rodriguez of Woodville announced in circuit court last Wednesday (Feb. 1) he intends to plead guilty March 1 to charges related to the Aug. 20 incident. Rodriguez, just months from turning 18 when the offenses occurred – though he’s since been certified for trial as an adult – is being held at the Loudoun County Juvenile Detention Center. MacArthur is at the Rappahannock County Jail; Lucas and Hale are being held at Culpeper County Jail.
The next day, last Thursday (Feb. 2), Cameron Lee MacArthur II of Amissville stood before Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey W. Parker – in a new RCSO issued black-and-white striped jumpsuit, slip-on tennis shoes and leg shackles – as Goff announced that he and MacArthur’s two attorneys have come to an oral agreement for a guilty plea to charges but had not yet put the plea agreement in writing.
Goff proposed that in exchange for testifying against defendants Hale and Lucas – being tried separately, he said, to avoid violating the boys’ Sixth Amendment rights to a fair trial – MacArthur would receive a lesser sentence: three years and six months imprisonment, to be served locally. Goff noted that the disposition was within the state sentencing guidelines. MacArthur would testify in the cases, if they reach trial, on Feb. 27 (Lucas) and April 24 (Hale).
Since there was no written copy of the agreement, Parker continued the plea hearing until Feb. 16, when MacArthur will either enter a guilty plea to the charges or plead innocent and be scheduled for trial.
“I think the seriousness of this crime – the arson charge alone carries a possible life sentence – warrants getting this deal down on paper before any promises are made by the court,” Parker said, before denying Goff’s recommendation to push MacArthur’s plea hearing to after the trials against Hale and Lucas.
After court Thursday, Goff said that he made a deal with MacArthur because the statements he made to police after being tracked down during the early morning Aug. 20 manhunt following the arson were closest to what investigators have come to believe is the truth. No deals were offered to the three others, Goff said.
Goff has worked – either as an investigator or prosecutor – several other arson cases, but he said this is his first to involve multiple defendants. Also, he said he’s never before had enough evidence to take an arson case to trial. In the cases against Hale and Gonzalez, however, he said he believes that trial awaits.
Last Wednesday (Feb. 1), three unrelated felony breaking-and-entering and larceny cases against 18-year-old Benjamin Hale of Castleton, who appeared in court in a jail-issue orange jumpsuit, were continued until Feb. 28. Those charges resulted from an investigation related to the burglaries and thefts over the summer at Rowland’s home and at Rappahannock County Elementary School. Two others were implicated in the crime. Hale will stand trial by jury April 24 for seven other felonies related to burning down Rowland’s weekend cabin.
A motion to suppress evidence against 21-year-old Travis Edward Hilley of Washington, facing a rape charge, was denied by Parker last Thursday. Hilley will face a jury trial March 7 on rape charges. According to the complaint filed by Virginia State Police special agent Mike Jones, Hilley raped a woman last Sept. 30 “when such act was accomplished through the use of the victim’s mental incapacity or physical helplessness.” This is an offense punishable by death.
This week, Hilley was arraigned on two new felony charges – possession of child pornography and reproducing child pornography – in Rappahannock County District Court on Tuesday (Feb. 7), the result of an ongoing investigation. According to a Jan. 19 criminal complaint, on Oct. 11, agent Jones seized a laptop during the rape investigation, which was searched Dec. 9. “At that time a movie file depicting a child (estimated 9- or 10-year-old female) performing a sex act with an identified male was recovered. The file was stored under the username “teh,” which is the initials for the accused.” A preliminary hearing on these two charges is set for March 6.